The government has been accused of being more inclined to believe Iran than human rights groups on the issue of how gay people are treated in that country.
The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association is angry that the Home Office minister in the Lords last week claimed:
“We are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”
GALHA intend to write to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for clarification of the official position after statements by Lord West of Spithead.
In 2005 Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly executed two teenage boys.
Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged because according to the regime they were rapists, however gay campaigners insist the boys were killed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed that a year-long investigation into this case revealed that the regime’s allegations against the two hanged youths, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were riddled with contradictions, implausibilities and outright lies.
At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19.
The best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes.
“The execution of Mahmoud and Ayaz conforms to a pattern of state torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by the Iranian clerical regime,” said Mr Tatchell.
“In publicised executions of gay people, the men are often accused of the kidnap and rape of a younger male.
“All such allegations need to be treated with extreme scepticism, as they tend to follow a suspiciously stereotypical formula.
“By instituting charges of kidnap and rape, the Iranian authorities apparently hope to discredit the victims, discourage public protests and deflect international condemnation.
“They calculate that there will be little Iranian or international sympathy for people hanged for crimes like abduction and sexual assault.”
Last week Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury drew to the government’s attention the case of Makwan Mouloudzadeh, a 20-year-old who was executed in December 2007 for a homosexual offence allegedly committed when he was 13.
“It is worth repeating that we have concerns about the treatment of gays within Iran,” said Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, told the House of Lords.
“However, in the one case that we looked into, because it was shown on television (Mahmoud and Ayaz), we found that two young males were hanged because they were found guilty of raping a 13 year-old boy.
“They were hanged for the offence of rape.
“Nevertheless, we certainly will look at the point that the noble Lord raises, as we need to do so.”
His comments moved crossbench peer Lord Wedderburn to comment:
“My Lords, can my noble friend explain how the Foreign Office has performed the miracle of having Nelson still alive in its offices with his telescope stuck to his blind eye?”
“All I can say is that I will talk to my colleagues in the Foreign Office to try to ensure that we are getting the best flavour of exactly what is happening in Iran,” responded Lord West.
Jim Herrick, a spokesman for GALHA, said:
“It is quite extraordinary that the minister can claim that there is no evidence of gays being executed in Iran.
“He seems more inclined to believe the propaganda of the Iranian authorities than the independent reports of organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which testify to the risk of execution faced by gay Iranians.”
MP George Galloway last week said that Iran does not execute gay people, but rather those “committing sex crimes.”
He is well-known for his trenchant views and belief that there is a media conspiracy to portray Iran in a bad light.
The outspoken independent MP won a London seat in the 2005 election by capitalising on Muslim anger about the Gulf War.
Tory peer and Shadow Cabinet member Baroness Warsi, who is Muslim, said in the Lords last week that there are discrepancies between in-country information provided in briefs by the Foreign Office and reports produced by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch about the situation in Iran.
“If the minister accepts that there are such discrepancies and that our information is not entirely correct, how can our decisions possibly be correct?” she asked.
“I am going by the information provided, I admit, by the Foreign Office in conjunction with some NGOs,” said Lord West.
“We have no evidence of anyone we have sent back being executed, and we would never send someone back who we felt was in danger of being executed.
“That is our position with any country in the world; we just do not do that.”
Last week more than 60 peers successfully petitioned the Home Secretary to reconsider the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay teenager from Iran claiming asylum in the UK.
Mr Kazemi, 19, was studying in England and applied for asylum after his boyfriend was arrested and reportedly executed in Tehran.
The boyfriend named Mehdi as a homosexual, and police turned up at his father’s house with a warrant to arrest him.
His asylum application was unsuccessful in the UK, so Mehdi fled to Holland. The Dutch authorities ruled he should be returned to the UK.
Although the decision to review his case has been met with support, gay activists have warned that there are many similar cases which are being overlooked by the government.
To read more of the Lords discussion of gays in Iran, click here.
Courtesy of theyworkforyou.com.